Bounty Flying in the North-East

The advent of ‘Bounty Flying’- in effect flying as an ‘nth’ pilot on a Transport aircraft to be able to claim the monthly Flying Bounty- was a phase that lasted till 1971. Many young fighter pilots who did not fly sufficient hours on their own fighter types had to log flying in different types of Transport aircraft to complete the required 72 hours in the year.

I completed my Day Ops training on the Vampire in 221 Sqn in Poona within about 3 months after commissioning in 1968. It was then that I became acquainted with the squadron next door when instructed to meet their Flight Commander for ‘Bounty hours’- No. 6 Sqn flying the L-1049 Super Constellation. I was looking forward to the experience of flying in a ‘different’ aircraft. So it’s impossible to forget the instructions that I received as we walked out to the tarmac - ‘Don’t come closer to the cockpit than the ‘VIP cabin’! That turned out to be located at the tail end of the aircraft!

Eventually I was to log about 30 hours on the ‘Super Connie’. I did however manage to see the ‘Super Connie’ cockpit once! That was when we were diverted from a C&L sortie to our squadron’s Local Flying Area to search for a Vampire- 52 that was reported ‘overdue’. Since I was ‘area- familiar’, the task of navigating the aircraft at low level during the search and pointing out various ground features fell on me. The wreckage of the ill-fated Vampire was located before long and that ended my cockpit time in the ‘Connie’.

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17 Sqn Dett at Jorhat for Range Flying- 1970: (L-R) Dinesh Arora, Jagga Brar, Sinchu Sinha, (on ground) Dickie Dixon & Bonny Mukherjee, (kneeling) ‘Chhota' Bains, Vinod Neb, (on Lambretta) KS Bajwa, RCJ Banerjee & self -NM Dhavle

‘Pat’ Patwardhan in Co-Pilot seat of Dakota

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Two months later I underwent a ‘Basic Conversion’ on Hunters at OTU, Jamnagar. In December 1968 a posting to 17 Sqn at Hasimara followed. Soon after, a hoard of (senior) pilots arrived from Toofani and Mystere squadrons which were being disbanded. In a trice I was the 49th pilot on the squadron strength - the youngest! Naturally this resulted in a long wait for flying the Hunter and thus prolonged my ‘Bounty flying’ experience - this time on the venerable Dakota.

That wait eventually stretched to all of 2 years! In all that time, travel from Hasimara to the Dakota squadrons at Jorhat or Kumbhirgram for Bounty Flying became a regular feature. I suspect many young pilots looked forward to it since this brought a change from the depressing routine of Base Ops, Cipher and Duty Officer duties which no young fighter pilot in his right mind would swap for the ejection seat of the Hunter. Sometimes we would get to see the brand new Migs from Tezpur during their attack manoeuvres over Hasimara targets. This was during regular inter-wing exercises that allowed us young pilots to showcase our skill at ‘garnishing’ the blast pens to camouflage them against attacks!

All in all, while posted to 17 Sqn I managed to notch up about 170 hours in the DC-3 Dakota! The memory of standing behind Captain/ Co-pilot in a ‘Dak’ and flying sortie after sortie from dawn-to-dusk to various DZs with MOH and other cargo will surely last me my lifetime. Sometimes, one was asked to replace one of the tired pilots on the return leg when the aircraft was ‘empty’. A few experienced captains sympathetic to our plight were very generous. They would allow me to fly drop circuits where the DZ was larger - such as at Sepla. The whole atmosphere – navigating to DZs scattered throughout the mountainous terrain, the tired crew, the cockpit smells, loaders vomiting in the cabin during sharp dropping manoeuvres, watching wing-tip clearance while parking in blast-pens - all are unforgettable memories today, even after 43 years.

There were other memorable episodes too during these travels, though unrelated to flying. In August 1969, three of us from 17 Sqn were given a lift in a 111 HU MI-4 on a Sunday morning. We flew from Hasimara to Shillong with instructions to reach the Dakota Dett at Kumbhirgram by Monday. At Shillong we met a crew from 110 HU who were to leave for Kumbhirgram the next morning - and they offered us a lift which would save us a bus ride. Bad weather saw our MI-4 divert to Gauhati on Monday! Then, weather boxed us in for a further 3 days at Gauhati. On Thursday, when we eventually reached Kumbhirgram (not by MI-4 but in a Packet!) we found that we had been reported missing by the 49 Sqn Dett Commander! Mess bills had to be produced to convince him that we were not delinquent! (Fighter pilots were not high on reputation for discipline in the ‘Happy Valley’ of 1960s!)

And what of the 110 HU MI-4 crew who diverted to Gauhati with us? They were called upon to carry out shuttle flights between Gauhati and Shillong for various ‘VIPs’ and eventually reached Kumbhirgram a whole week after us. The hapless crew spent nearly 3 weeks away from base - all without a change of clothes!

One other surprise was to discover that many young Dakota pilots were struggling to gain ‘actual experience’ of handling the aircraft! I realised this when I agreed to fly as co-pilot on a C & L sortie after the day’s ‘Army co-op’ task was over. We took off just before sunset with a brief to carry out three landings. When the pilot aborted approach twice and went around without landing I remarked about the gathering darkness and the need to ‘finish the job’ in time. Imagine my surprise when he said ‘Yes I know, but I never get to land during the task sorties. I have forgotten how to land’! The ‘full-stop’ landing that followed was one of the best ‘talk-down’ approaches that I have ever guided!

All this ended in 1971 when many of us young pilots were posted out from fighter squadrons to different AF Stations for Base-ops duties. For me Base Ops Kalaikunda proved to be but a ‘transit’ point for six months. I then made tracks to Jodhpur to the HTS - this time for a conversion to helicopters! That brought a sad and premature end to my raison d’être - flying Fighters. It also ended the Bounty flying that inadvertently came with it. I have to say that it left with me many memories and experiences that definitely enriched my subsequent flying career.

 

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View from a Dakota cockpit- Supply Drop over DZ in Mizoram- August 1969

Approaching a DZ, parachute from previous run just visible

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Approach to Kumbhirgram

‘Polly’ Mehra & Wadhwa- F (N), (both ex-30th Course NDA) in Kumbhirgram

 


Photo and Text Copyright of Wing Commander N M Dhavle